Subject: SIMSON SAYS: Let's make sure Microsoft gets the Word on Linux
From: John Gilmore <gnu@toad.com>
Date: Thu, 18 Mar 1999 13:51:45 -0800

Forwarded-by: "Peter G. Neumann" <neumann@csl.sri.com>
From: "Simson L. Garfinkel" <simsong@vineyard.net>
To: <simson-says@vineyard.net>
Subject: SIMSON SAYS:Let's make sure Microsoft gets the Word on Linux 
Date: Thu, 18 Mar 1999 14:33:23 -0500
Reply-To: simsong@acm.org

TECHSPEAK
Let's make sure Microsoft gets the Word on Linux

By Simson Garfinkel, 03/18/99

The free Linux operating system has been in the news a lot lately.

Last month, IBM said it was forming a strategic partnership with Red Hat
Software to deliver IBM computers running Red Hat's Linux operating system.

Meanwhile, industry leader Oracle is shipping a version of its database for
the free operating system. Many pundits are now openly wondering if Linux
might some day replace, or at least stand alongside Microsoft Windows.

But one of the things that has held back Linux from broad acceptance is the
lack of mainstream desktop applications - programs like Microsoft Word,
Intuit's Quicken, and Adobe's PhotoShop. None of these programs run on
Linux.

Some Linux enthusiasts say the lack of mainstream applications is actually a
good thing. The lack of commercial programs, they say, is stimulating the
development of free word processors, spreadsheets, and desktop publishing
systems.

Meanwhile, there are a number of commercial vendors that are making
applications for Linux. A program called Star Office, bundled with some
versions of Linux, provides a rudimentary word processor, spreadsheet, and
drawing program. Meanwhile, Corel has developed a Word Perfect program for
Linux and is even giving the program away on the company's Web site.

But for many users, Star Office and Word Perfect aren't good enough. Many
businesses and universities have standardized on Microsoft Word and Excel,
and they can't seriously consider putting Linux on a person's desk until
Linux runs Microsoft's applications.

Two weeks ago, while I was a guest on WBUR's radio show ''The Connection,''
I mentioned off-handedly that Microsoft was exploring the possibility of
releasing a Microsoft Office for Linux. The comment was reprinted widely.
Many people observed that it would make good sense for the programmers in
Microsoft's Office Group to explore Linux. After all, if the government
prevails in its current antitrust case against Microsoft, the company might
soon be split into two, one selling applications, the other selling
operating systems.

Word on Linux would give the applications publishing Microsoft a foothold in
the world's next major operating system. Meanwhile, Word for Linux would
have a crushing impact on the other Linux word processors and spreadsheets:
Star Office and Word Perfect could never win the market share battle if
Microsoft Word were available on the Linux platform.

Alas, my comments gave the wrong impression. According to John Duncan, a
product manager for the Microsoft Office suite of software, ''We don't have
plans to offer a Linux version of Office. There is no development effort
under way.''

I based my radio comments on the fact that many individuals inside Microsoft
run Linux on their home computers. Even though Microsoft has not formally
committed to the platform, many Microsoft employees have made their own
commitments with their time and money.

When I spoke with Duncan, he said Microsoft is not developing Office for
Linux because ''customers haven't asked for it.''

Of course that's nonsense. Lots of Linux users want Microsoft Office on
their desktop. Nevertheless, says Duncan, Microsoft hasn't heard an outcry
for Linux in its surveys, its usability studies, or in discussions with its
major customers.

Linux users now have an opportunity to change Microsoft's mind. Duncan has
set up a special e-mail address for people who have comments or questions
about Microsoft and Linux. Just drop a note to

linuxq@microsoft.com. Or, if you want, send your letter to me. I'll keep
track of responses and send a copy to Microsoft as well.

I'm sure that a lot of Microsoft's customers want Office on Linux. Microsoft
just needs to start listening in the right way.

SIMSON GARFINKEL


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